For the third time in the last three seasons, Indiana won a Big Ten game with a 20-14 win over the Wisconsin Badgers.
The Badgers entered the game as nearly 10 point favorites, coming to Bloomington with a winning record in the conference. They have wins against Purdue and Illinois teams that Indiana is set to see in the coming weeks.
Wisconsin also handled Rutgers this year, on the road - something Indiana failed to do even during its homecoming game just a few weeks ago. Does the win for the Hoosiers today represent some progress then?
Maybe. As stated, Indiana was a heavy underdog today and fought hard enough to not just cover the spread, but beat a Wisconsin team that had a shot at the Big Ten West Title. The win is Tom Allen’s first against Luke Fickell, who delivered two heartbreaking losses to Indiana as the coach at Cincinnati.
On the other hand, this is Fickell’s first year at Wisconsin. He’s one of three first year coaches in the conference, and Indiana will see another in its November 25th matchup with Ryan Walters’ first Purdue team.
There are also a few teams in the conference that may be free falling harder than Indiana, at the moment. Both Northwestern and Michigan State were rocked by scandals this year, and yet each team managed to notch a Big Ten win before the Hoosiers upset the Badgers.
In a chaotic season, Indiana has now managed not to be the only winless team in the conference. The Hoosiers may still finish in last place, but at least now there’s a glimmer of hope for wins against Illinois and Purdue teams that lost to Wisconsin and a Michigan State squad facing an existential crisis.
Is this the future for Indiana football? You’d like to see wins against Rutgers and Maryland, but there will always be teams in crisis or a coaching change that can open the door to some unexpected conference wins.
The dissolution of the divisions within the Big Ten and addition of four more teams means that Indiana will, theoretically, continue to have the chance to steal wins from unstable programs. With 18 teams, the conference will always have coaching changes, scandal, and teams facing more serious problems off the field to make bowl eligibility possible for Indiana.
The question now is whether Indiana will accept this or expect more of its football program. Does it rely on other teams being worse every year or take a step toward beating the teams at the middle of the conference who manage to slip into bowl games despite big losses to the Big Ten elite?